Saturday, June 13, 2009

An Elmore Leonard Kind of Day

Donis here. For some reason, Elmore Leonard has kept popping up in my life over the past few days.  I heard an interview with him on NPR last week while I was driving to the hospital, and just today,  I read an article by him in my latest AARP Magazine.  (All right., just keep your thoughts to yourself.)

I’ve seen Leonard speak a couple of times, read several of his novels, and many of his articles and books on writing.  His thoughts on the craft always resonate with my experience of it.  I think that anyone who writes regularly, no matter on what level, can relate.

In the radio interview, Leonard spoke about hearing a critic talk about the theme of one of his books. He realized that the critic was spot on in his analysis, which interested him no end, mainly because he wasn’t thinking of any theme at all when he wrote the novel. 

I’ve had a similar experience, more than once, in fact.  I do not set out to write a book with a particular theme.  I start with the characters, put them in a situation, and let them go at it.  Much to my own bemusement, between the time I type the first word and the moment I finish, often a theme develops all by itself.  And I usually don’t see it myself until a reader points it out to me.  At which point I slap myself in the forehead and exclaim, “Why, so it is! However did that occur?”

Many, many times readers have discovered things in my novels that I didn’t know were there.  I love it when someone makes a comment about something I wrote that makes me realize that I’m infinitely more deep and insightful than I realized.  Of course, sometimes readers just make things up, putting meanings to scenes or actions that have nothing to do with what I meant when I wrote it.  Readers’ and critics’ comments about my work very often tell me a lot more about them than they do about my story.  

They can make things up if they want to, though.  Once I’ve written a novel and it’s out of my hands and in the hands of the reader, what she gets out of it is none of my business. 

I’ll tell you truly.  When I write, I work as hard as I can to create something meaningful, and artistic, and special.  I feel it in me, and it’s painful to wonder if one has enough skill to get it on the page. If what a reader discovers in my work is wonderful, moving, helpful, or gives her pleasure, I feel an almost religious awe that I was somehow the conduit for that.

In the AARP article, Elmore Leonard wrote, “After 56 years you’d think writing would get easier.  It doesn’t. If you’re lucky, you become harder to please.  That’s all right, it’s still a pleasure.”


John Corrigan said...

Talk about resonating...I really enjoyed this. I think we all like to write because we enjoy being the first readers of our own stories. Isn't that the test? If the characters don't grab the writer, who else will they grab?

Rick Blechta said...

I once stopped a novel after 80+ pages because I realized that I would very likely kill the protagonist before page 150 if I didn't. He was just SO obnoxious. I sat there wondering, How the heck did this happen?

After 10 days, I "re-cast" the part and went happily forward.

It was all very weird.

Hannah Dennison said...

I read the same article too! It was amazing! Writing does not get any easier ... unfortunately.

Donis Casey said...

I love that you nearly killed off a protagonist just because he annoyed you, Rick. I swear we're just channelling real people, and you can't make them be other than they are.

Rick Blechta said...

He was a composer and all he did was whine. I hate whiners. I'd pull him aside and tell him to grow a backbone and just get on with it. He'd be fine for a few pages, and then when I wasn't looking, off he'd go again. I even threatened him with zero result. So I was left with no choice but to boot his arse out of the book.

Serves him right!